The Country Store: A Guest Post from a Country Store Shopper

How lovely to have a guest contributor. Karen Resta is one of Mrs.S.’ best-friends-that-she’s-never-met – yes, a Facebook friend. She’s a clever and sassy New Yorker most of the time (and a cracking writer – you can see more of her stuff here) – but she spent a good few years in a wee corner of West Virginia, and this reflects her time there…

There’s always the guy who walks out of the tiny food store with the screened-in front and the peeling white paint the moment I walk in. He might be tall and lanky, or he might be short and skinny, but he’s never fat – the reason being that he works on a farm baling hay, fixing the vehicles that break, handling the cattle and the crops. Late fall, he’s got a crumpled brown paper bag of apples in his hand. Late summer, he’s got that same small crumpled brown bag of Scuppernong grapes, so sweet their aroma strikes you from ten feet away. But each time -every time – he’s also got a chunk of something glaring yellow and red in his other hand, wrapped tight in cheap shiny plastic wrap.

He’s always there, that guy, though he may not always be the exact same guy,but he looks right into my eyes, I mean right into my eyes, unashamedly, without hesitation or covertness of any sort whatsoever and he smiles the sweetest damn smile. His smile holds the beauty of a simplicity rarely seen outside these parts, outside places “like this”, like this place you now call home but that’s not really home. There’s no measurement, no conniving, no wondering, in that smile.

In that smile, I’m the girl sitting on the haystack, laughing as the colt skitters sideways from the cat jumping up out of the tall grass to surprise it. In that smile, his eyes say in a straightforward manner, without any twisting torturously around as if under a sharp pin: I’m a good man. His eyes say this without question for he knows he is, without question. The sun rises, the sun sets. The world is as it has been for some long time here and it won’t change too quick, no need to worry about this that or the other thing. Hay grows and is cut. Calving season arrives with reminders of life and death as some calves live, some die – some rise and grow, some falter, and each one is a small perfect thing of beauty, at least for that one shining moment. That smile of his says he’s a man who likes you as a woman, without question. It says,”I’ll cherish you.” And you know he would, for it shows in that smile, without question. He’d cherish you – and how often does that happen.

Inside the dusky store a piece of bright yellow and red hoop cheese waits to be cut with the heavy battered steel knife from the huge round as big around as your arms could stretch, sitting right there on the square wooden chopping block, the table draped with flowered felt-backed plastic tablecloth. Most people don’t leave without a piece of this cheese (if they’re smart) to quickly pull off its wrapper to devour it crumble by slightly oily, rich, biting, heavenly torn-off crumble right there in the car.

On the drive home it’s best to go up the other road, the straight one – not the wildly twisted one overlooking pastures and wide valleys stretching far as the eye can see I took to get here, the road that makes the car almost fall off the side of the mountain as it edges past any other approaching vehicle. There’s the painted sign that’s almost illegible (you’d have to know it was there to know it was there) for the Cashmere Coon Hunt Club, where guys meet Friday nights to drink beer, talking over the day sometime soon when they’ll head out with their dogs to hunt raccoons . . . sometime soon . . . then past more hills, more tiny square houses off in the distance, more cows, more murky green-edged ponds. It’s time to go home, which is not – really – here. It’s time to go back to a place of belonging more closely than here. I’ll savor those jagged bits of torn-off cheese chunks all the long drive home, till bit by bit the hypnotic, acidic, dense buttery haunting taste is done with but never forgotten. Home might just be where the heart is – and sometimes you can taste it – no matter how you’re dressed.

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